My Brand New Monitors

w00t! I finally got real monitors.

This week I finally took the plunge and bought myself some real studio
monitors. To this point, I have been mixing on a collection of
headphones with an occasional mix check in my car. Sort of funny
because what I've spent on various headphones would have bought some
pretty nice monitors.

Suspense killing you? Well ultimately I decided on the Samson Rubicon R5a.

Picking monitors is hard. Really hard. In the modern age of on-line
shopping, a decent store with a big selection for you to listen to a
bunch in a decent acoustic environment is a hard thing to find. The
economics probably don't support a store "doing it right". So I've
been going really slow. Reading reviews in magazines (Computer Music,
Future Music and Sound on Sound being my faves); dropping into stores
and having a listen to something; getting confused; repeat. I've had
occasion to visit a Guitar Centre in San Jose and they have an OK
selection and you can listen to a bunch... of course, unless you
bring music with you that you know well you'll soon be confused. I
likened the process to choosing a wine. Within a price range, most
are good but each has its own character... Lucky for me, I live in
Canada and making an impulse buy in California was not in the cards.

My first criteria was price. My mental limit was $500CAN. I got to
hear some really nice Dynaudio monitors that were more than double
that and I just ruled them out. Many people rave about Genelecs, I
never even tried for reasons of price. Maybe I'm wrong, whatever.

For that price range, I could have got some M-Audio BX8a's.
Initially, I was lured by bigger speakers. I read somewhere that
unless I had a big room, they'd likely overpower the room. Knowing
what I know now, I'm glad I went small.

But I went to hear them in several places and each time they sounded
different... Basically, the acoustics of the store you're in play a
huge role in your perception. Distressing for sure. Eventually I
decided that I couldn't really trust the store experience and I should
just make a decision. I'd probably learn to love whatever I chose.

Now, presumably the guys writing for the magazines know at least a
little bit more than me and until I know enough to thumb my nose at
them, I might as well look at what they like. The Rubicon's have been
Future Music's Editors' Choice for a while so I thought seriously
about them. I found a place in the city where I could hear them.
They sounded awesome. Not hugely better than any other speaker but
"just right". Now here's the part I feel guilty about... I bought
them from another store that was closer to home cause was too lazy to
drive into the city (carrying a monitor box on transit is not my idea
of fun). The reason I feel guilty is that the store in the city did
everything right. The store I bought at is staffed by lovely people
but their economics just don't support a wall o' speakers for
customers to sample from.

So finally I have real monitors. What's it like?

One word. Awesome.

But I have some observations.

First. They're loud. They go to eleven but I'm running them at one.
I'm so glad I didn't get 8 inch units. My room isn't very large and
turns out it doesn't take very many watts to make 80dB SPL in such a

Second. I put my old computer speakers, which weren't completely
terrible on top of the monitors. That raises them off my desk by about
13-14 inches. Wow what a difference! You might save yourself a ton
of money just by raising your crap speakers up off your desk to ear
level (form an equilateral triangle with your head at one corner).
What this tells me is that I really really really need speaker stands
for the Rubicons.

Third. The low bandwidth (128) mp3s in my collection sound like ass on
the new speakers. Up to now I've been suspicious of the various
claims that mp3s (and all things digital) suck. You've heard it too.
Well, they are right. It's just you need to invest in some decent
playback equipment (and a quiet room) to hear the difference. But
little by little we've been sold increasingly inferior audio gear.
And we've been buying it. I am not an audiophile. And I'm definitely
not a snob about this stuff. But it's possible that I'll become

This last point actually creates several problems. One is disk space.
Now I'm thinking that I want everything in lossless formats. Who can
afford the disk space. My music collection is something like 9500
tracks (small by some standards, I know) weighing in at some 60-70GB.
Multiply by 10 (approx) for a lossless format. So now I need a
terabyte iPod? Pretty sure that el Jobso isn't working on one of

The other problem is how to think about my own mixes. I've
re-listened to some of my previous mixes with the Rubicons and my
feelings are, well, mixed. Some stand up but alarmingly others suck
large donkey balls. They were good enough through my iPod headphones
and in the car. Now I gotta redo them. Is it worth the trouble?
Paraphrasing McCain, I'll get back to you on that.

All this after just two days...

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